About 10 years ago, I spent a lot of time in South Florida and developed a real appreciation for the culture, food and weather. They say humidity is good for the skin!
Today, I arrived in Miami and took the shuttle to my hotel, which was on the airport property. I was hungry for lunch when I arrived, and the front desk told me they served lunch until 3:30 p.m. I headed to the restaurant 20 minutes later and noticed a sign that said they were only serving lunch until 3 p.m. After all of the confusion, I finally found the hostess, who said they were closed. I pointed out it was only 2:55 p.m., but she told me again they were closed.
I proceeded to look for the manager, but with no one in the restaurant, I went into the kitchen. It took about three times of asking, “Anyone home?” before a gentleman walked out and offered to help me. I told him what happened and he said, “of course we can make you lunch.”
Ken (that’s his name) walked me to a table, found me a server who took my order: a portobello mushroom burger (vegan, of course!).
When I finished lunch, Ken came to check on me and I invited him to sit down. I told him I run a business myself and realized he had a training opportunity on his hands with his hostess. I was curious how he was going to handle it, and the most interesting conversation began.
It turns out that Ken isn’t the manager, but the company “troubleshooter” that comes in from corporate to assist hotel properties having challenges.
We had a fabulous conversation about training and he told me how Hilton Hotels work. He talked about their systems and processes for sanitation (really important in the foodservice business), how they are creating healthier food options on their menu and how they plan to make the entire check-in process for the business traveler more friendly and seamless. We talked about the kinds of water he wants to serve in the hotels (he likes Voss) and importance of uniforms on wait staff. Ken has been in the food business for at least 30 years, but his current role is being an expert for “perfecting the guest experience.”
Ken totally gets the “360 experience” from the viewpoint of a guest. When I handed him my card, it was heartening when he recognized our company name. “Frieda’s?” he said. “I’ve been using Frieda’s products for years!” Little did I know that my one day trip to Miami would inspire me to be even more passionate about the importance of training and setting expectations.
This past weekend, I went to Houston, Texas to see my husband’s family. August is a busy month for his family as many people celebrate their birthdays (his son, mom and two of his brothers).
Saturday night was the 70th birthday celebration for his older brother, Don, and the surprise party was being held at Charlie’s BBQ. Before we left for the party, I loaded my purse up with vegan snacks and crossed my fingers that there would be some food I could eat. I looked around the room for a server, and ended up finding the owner. I explained that I didn’t eat any animal products (I wasn’t sure if saying I was a vegan would be enough of an explanation) and asked if he had a plain baked potato anywhere in the kitchen.
It turns out the owner was extremely accommodating and not only produced a large baked potato for me, but offered up some cooked mushrooms and garlic, all made without butter or cheese. I spooned some salsa on my baked potato and noticed there were a few other vegetarians at the party getting the same thing!
That’s when the conversations started.
Several of Garry’s family and friends read my blog, and one by one, they made their way to my table to tell me how much they were interested in my vegan journey. Cousin Liz from Dallas has been a vegetarian for 10 years and spent quite a bit of time telling me her helpful hints on food choices. Her husband Harry was very supportive and was almost bragging about her lifestyle!
Another friend Linda, who is from Houston, came over to discuss Forks over Knives and The China Study. She had recently read the book Wheat Belly and was amazed at how much better she felt now that she was avoiding all wheat. She also commented on how she has become fastidious about reading ingredient labels and discovered there are a lot of “hidden” ingredients in processed foods.
Throughout the weekend, I was struck by two things. First, once you tell everyone that you have a special “diet” they can be so supportive and make sure you get special attention and your food needs are met. Second, I was quite surprised to see that, even in the “land of barbecue and meat and potatoes,” so many people are concerned with their health. They are making active choices to change their eating habits and consume more fruits and vegetables. It made me very happy.
I admit I had one challenging experience when we went to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. I asked the server for celery and carrots sticks to dip in the guacamole and salsa and he flat out told me they didn’t have any and said, “Ma’am, this is a Tex-Mex Restaurant, we don’t have any celery and carrots.” I patiently asked him if he wouldn’t mind checking with the chef to see if they had any in the kitchen, and he kind of rolled his eyes at me. So you can imagine my surprise (and his) when he returned to our table a few minutes later with a bowl of celery and carrot sticks! And of course, he then quickly suggested an all vegetable fajita selection for my lunch!
So, my lesson was, “It never hurts to ask!”
Throughout my journey, I have been referring to a documentary and book by the name, “Forks over Knives”, which inspired me to start my vegan journey.
When I first heard the title, I couldn’t figure out what it meant. So, when I started reading the book (which is only 55 pages long, and then has 150 pages of recipes), I finally arrived on page 27 and read:
“The fact that so many diseases are dependent on diet is the reason why, for health and healing, it is far better to rely on food (i.e., your fork) than surgery (i.e. the surgeon’s knife). Simply put: forks over knives.”
Their website has so many interesting articles, videos and more. Check it out here.
In the produce business, we have noticed that some endorsements or mentions by celebrities make a huge positive difference on consumer demand. Celebrity chefs and Dr. Oz both have an incredible impact when they mention a produce item on their show, so, when I saw this endorsement from Dr. Oz on the “Forks over Knives” website, I was excited! His thoughts on the documentary?: “I loved it and I need all of you to see it.”
Here is a two minute video to see what it’s all about.
I think the question I have been asked the most the last couple of weeks is:
“Did you become vegan to lose weight?”
The answer is yes AND no.
I did not go vegan because I wanted to lose weight. But, I am pleased that I have dropped 4 pounds in the last 3 weeks. I think a large part is due to the fact that I am no longer eating any dairy (cheese, yogurt, etc.) or processed white sugar (no regular chocolate, cookies, etc.).
Several of my readers have gone vegan and have shared their results with me:
The unexpected benefit I have experienced, however, is how much better my skin looks! Three people have all commented that my skin looks better and even the skin on my hands looks younger. Turns out this is a common benefit of eliminating processed sugar from your diet! Did you know that sugar ages you? You can read more about this here
In case you just can’t give up that craving for sweets, your local natural foods store has many cacao based desserts, without processed white sugar or high fructose corn syrup, that taste as good as regular chocolate desserts!
I arrived in New York City on Wednesday afternoon to move my youngest daughter Sophia into college, and quickly learned there was no need to worry about vegan options in New York.
First of all, our hotel was across the street from a Whole Foods Market! After settling in our room, we walked over to get something for dinner and I was quite surprised at the large amount of vegan choices in the prepared foods section. I honestly think there were more vegan options than non-vegan.
Thursday night, my eldest daughter Alex and I had dinner with some business colleagues at Fig and Olive® in the Meatpacking District. There are six locations, two being in California, and the chef was quite accommodating when I mentioned I was vegan. I had scrumptious penne pasta (no egg!) with mushrooms and garlic. And thank goodness martinis are vegan!
Friday night, Alex went online looking for true vegan restaurants in the city. She found Candle 79 in the Upper East Side, one of the top vegan restaurants in the country. The fresh fruit sangria was a great way to toast our dinner, and the vegan cannoli and carrot cake were tasty desserts with a great mouth-feel. You couldn’t tell they were vegan! You can check out the dinner menu here.
Our final culinary experience was in Brooklyn on Saturday evening to check out Do or Dine. This restaurant increased in popularity when the chef-owner Justin Warner, 27, was voted The Next Food Network Star during the television show’s eighth season. Alex was a fan of Justin’s throughout the show, so we HAD to go to his restaurant. It was refreshing to learn that he is a self-taught chef and built Do or Dine from the ground up with two friends. Justin’s approach to food reflects his personality: edgy, rebellious, passionate and witty.
|Justin Warner of Do or Dine. Photo courtesy of The Food Network.|
While Alex had the Foie Gras Doughnut that is unique to the restaurant, I opted for everything vegan on the menu, including Shishito Quatre Sel, (fried, but not battered, shishito peppers with four salts), and the Xacuti Chimichanga.
I am excited about my next trip to New York City as one of my blog followers, Shaleen, told me I need to check out this vegan food truck next time I am there.
I have realized that becoming vegan actually opens doors to new culinary experiences.
Chicago is well known as one of the best food towns in the world, so I was quite excited when my friend Andy asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner.
He called my cell phone about 5:30 p.m. and told me to meet him at The Purple Pig at 6:30.
I didn’t really think about what kind of food that was until we walked up to the entrance and there was a sign that said “Cheese, Wine & Swine.”
Swine? I turned to Andy and reminded him that I was now eating vegan. He said not to worry, they had some fantastic vegetable dishes.
Turns out The Purple Pig is the “place to be seen” in Chicago and is also a top destination for celebrity chefs. As a matter of fact, Susan Feniger walked in while we were eating and since I have met her before I introduced myself.
While the other folks at our table tasted some magnificent cheeses and sliced meats, I enjoyed luscious grilled green onions, sauteed cauliflower, green beans and fresh raw corn. The vegetables were flavorful and colorful and I couldn’t resist the grilled bread that was made without eggs.
At no time did I feel hungry or as if I was missing anything!
Because Andy lives in Chicago, he frequents The Purple Pig, and so near the end of our dinner he went to get the chef, Jimmy Bannes, Jr. I told Jimmy how much I enjoyed his restaurant even though I am vegan. It didn’t seem to faze him that I didn’t enjoy his pork centered menu.
I found the most enjoyable part of going out to dinner is the people around the table. My friends all got to enjoy the amazing food, and I got to enjoy and still feel satisfied.
With that being said, one of the other people who joined us for dinner was Vern, who is a former chef and now an herb grower. Vern, Andy and I traveled to Berlin, Germany, a few years ago for a food show. I admit that I lamented a bit when we started to reminisce about our culinary journey during our trip.
Sometimes it is hard to be a vegan in a world filled with animal products at every turn. Nevertheless, I felt good as I left the restaurant. I had a great evening with some longtime friends and a few glasses of wine at an awesome venue.
And now, on to New York City to move my youngest daughter to college!
As many of you know, I travel quite a bit (almost weekly) for my position as Frieda’s President and Chief Energizer Bunny!
This week, I am in Chicago for a small produce show. Now that I am completely vegan, I definitely have to plan my eating more.
My breakfast before the early morning flight was my usual oatmeal (lots of protein). I packed Ziploc® baggies with raw almonds (more protein) and organic raisins and dates to snack on during the flight.
After landing and getting to my hotel, I attended a speaker session as part of the produce show. By the time the session was over at 5 p.m., I was starving and my energy was kind of low.
There was a reception immediately following and I did a quick scan of the room. I didn’t see any fresh fruits and vegetables to munch on! Frankly, I was shocked since I was at fresh produce event.
I had to punt, and managed to make myself a cabbage taco on a corn tortilla, which was my vegan take on the “make your own fish taco” bar at the reception.
After the reception, my colleague Jennifer and I went to visit one of our client’s supermarkets. When we were done, we looked at each other, trying to decide what to do for dinner.
As I eyed the fresh looking salad bar, stocked with fresh cut fruits and vegetables, I asked her how she felt about eating dinner right here in the grocery store.
Her eyes lit up as she confided in me that, when she travels, grocery stores are her preferred choice for dinner. She said she feels like she can choose exactly what she wants, knowing it’s fresh and that she will enjoy a lighter meal.
I was thrilled!
What made me even happier was the store’s several vegan options for ready made salads! I got to enjoy a chopped kale salad along with my salad bar selections.
Try dining at a local grocery store on your next trip.
When I started my vegan journey, I was not terribly worried about ordering vegan-friendly food at a restaurant, but so many people have asked, “So what do you order?”
I have been eating vegan for two weeks now, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything!
My big learning experience yesterday was how much I appreciate the taste sensation of real, whole food.
I haven’t done any actual calculations, but from what I can reckon, I am eating about 70% raw foods. Whether it’s my mid-morning snack of celery sticks, baby carrots and sliced hot house cucumbers or fresh blueberries and hand cut watermelon chunks in the afternoon, my diet is mostly raw fruits and veggies.
Last night, I decided to try something I used to snack on pre-vegan journey. A rice cake with melted “cheese” on top.
It wasn’t real cheese. It was a vegan non-dairy, non-soy “cheese” that my niece Jennifer recommended. I popped it into the microwave for 20 seconds. My daughter Sophia watched what I was doing and started laughing as I smelled it and then took a small bite.
I couldn’t eat it.
I actually had to spit it out and throw it away. It may have tasted fine to anyone else, but my palate has changed so much, that the processed cheese product was not of interest to my now pure palate.
So – because of my diet change, not only do I no longer crave sugar, I also do not crave processed foods.
What an interesting and beneficial side effect of going vegan!
In my post last week “What I learned from shopping” I wrote about my visit to Whole Foods and how an employee told me processed white sugar is not considered vegan:
“White refined sugar is not vegan because they add ground up animal bones to the sugar to give it its white color. That’s why ‘raw’ or ‘unrefined sugar’ has a brown color.”
After doing more research I found out that this is not 100% accurate. Not all white sugar is non-vegan. According to VegSource.com, processed beet sugar is typically vegan, because it doesn’t require decolorizing. White cane sugar, however, is usually filtered through activated carbon (charcoal), which may be of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin, depending on the refinery. The animal-origin carbon is made from bone char, just like the Whole Foods employee told me.
But, as VegSource.com states, “The bone char used in this filtering process is so far removed from its animal source that the sugar processed in this method is deemed kosher pareve, which, according to Jewish dietary laws, means that it contains no meat or milk in any form as an ingredient.”
Still, a number of vegans disagree with this perspective.
The bottom line for me is processed sugar is not good for me. I have found that it is almost addictive, and the minute I have a food or drink with sugar or high fructose corn syrup in it, I can’t stop consuming it. But, over the last 10 days I have cut out all refined sugar and I have lost my cravings for it! That’s pretty astounding since I had a serious chocolate addiction.
Truthfully, I do like to sweeten my oatmeal in the morning, so I have started using agave syrup. Made from the agave plant which grows in the desert, agave has become the sweetener of choice for diabetics as it has a low-glycemic index and is easy to digest. I find that the flavor is gentle with the perfect amount of sweetness. In addition to my morning oatmeal, I like to add it to my fruit smoothies, which I make with almond milk and frozen berries.
Have a sweet day!
I have been surprised by the number of people that follow my blog who are vegan or vegetarian. I had no idea! My friend Seth, who I know from my synagogue, is one of them.
Seth sent me an email last week with a photo of his vegan dinner at Au Lac, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant in Fountain Valley, California.
“This place is amazing! Vegetarian food elevated to art. I’m sitting at the bar watching all this beautiful and healthy food leave the kitchen. My Asian Nori Roll salad was incredibly tasty. The dressing had a subtle ginger undertone. The chimichurri bread is RAW vegan, “cooked” in a dehydrator. I’m going back tomorrow night if you want to join me.”
We arranged to meet on Friday night and I didn’t really know what to expect. I went to their website and was quite surprised that the restaurant has been there since 1997 and offering raw foods since 2002. Actually, when you look through their menu, items are designated by an (R) for raw and (C) for cooked. The entire restaurant serves vegan foods with an Asian twist, because both the owner and chef are from Vietnam.
It was quite an interesting dinner!
We started with the vegan bread dipped in a chili garlic oil sauce, and then had a Sea Vegetable Salad. Next, we had the Asian Nori Salad, which was incredible. I tried a Cali-Roll, which had young coconut slices in it instead of fish! Lastly, we had stir-try vegetables with tofu on a bed of thick, Udon-style rice noodles. This was so yummy, as it had Jicama in it! I have never had chunks of Jicama in a stir-fry before, and it was great.
I think Au Lac must be well-known in the vegan community because two other friends have both suggested I go there.
It was so good, that my daughter Alex and I are going there this week. I will be getting that Asian Nori Salad for sure!
As we were leaving, we saw the chef in the parking lot. I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed our meal. He smiled and nodded when I commented to him. Then Seth said, “I forgot to tell you, the chef does not speak.”
Hmm – will have to find out more about that on my next visit.
Okay, I admit it— I have become obsessed with reading ingredient labels. I began reading labels more closely since going vegan, but what I’ve discovered is a bit disturbing and kind of overwhelming.
I am disturbed because I thought I was a smart shopper and consumer. But, the fact is, there are ingredients in some of my favorite, and often used, foods that I am not happy about. And I’m overwhelmed by it.
I took from my pantry this weekend, with the intention to use them in my meal preparations. All three containers are now in my trash can, and here’s why:
First – rice vinegar would have been great on my green salad. I wondered if there was anything in there that was not vegan-friendly, so I checked the label. Here are the ingredients: rice vinegar, water, high fructose corn syrup, salt, brown sugar, diluted with water. High fructose corn syrup? That is on my “do not eat” list.
Second – my favorite salad dressing is a blush wine vinaigrette dressing. I even talked to the manufacturer’s representative at a trade show and asked him to make sure it was available at my local grocery store. Ingredients: sugar, water, red wine vinegar, canola oil, salt, spices, garlic, etc. Why didn’t I notice that SUGAR was the first ingredient in the salad dressing? A little scary, but no wonder I liked it.
Third – garlic mustard sauce. I was introduced to this by my mom, and loved its garlicky flavor with steamed vegetables. Ingredients: mustard seed, distilled vinegar, garlic, water, soybean oil (I’m allergic to soy), mustard flour, eggs, spices, salt and lemon juice. I had no idea there were eggs and soy in it. In the trash it goes!
So, even if you aren’t vegan, I encourage you to start reading your food labels. I bet you will be surprised.
When he heard I was vegan, he suggested I check out the prepared food offerings on the other side of the store. He told me their store developed a vegan lentil and black bean burger that was a big hit with shoppers. So much so, they sell 60 of them in one day!
I had fun taste testing some of the prepared foods. Carlos was the guy behind the counter and he blew me away when I started asking him about vegan foods. He informed me that the reason white refined sugar is NOT vegan is because they add ground up animal bones to the sugar to give it a white color. That’s why “raw” or “unrefined sugar” has a brown coloring. I asked him how he knew that, and he told me that all Whole Foods employees go through extensive training before they work in the store.
I was surprised to find out that oatmeal has a lot of protein (8 grams), so that is what I have been having for breakfast. I have a wheat allergy, so I purchased Glutenfreeda Gluten-free Natural Oatmeal. I added some cinnamon, a little agave nectar and a bit of salt for flavor. And enjoyed my French roast coffee, of course.
Yesterday, much to my surprise, my taste buds opened up! After almost a year of finding most foods bland and not very exciting, my morning snack of celery and baby carrots had amazing flavor. The celery tasted super salty! And the baby carrots were sweet, like candy. It was just like my friend Patrick told me it would be.
For lunch, I had a business outing planned with my colleague Aldo. I let him know that I was now vegan, so he decided to take me to his favorite vegan restaurant. It was actually more of a “hole in the wall” in a strip mall. Called “The Secret Spot” overlooking Huntington Beach, it had the most heavenly tasting food. I had a vegan burrito they dubbed a “Currito” as the sauce is curry-based. I could only eat half of the huge Currito, but it was filled with pineapple, rice, beans, avocado and cashews in a yummy curry sauce.
My sense is that a lot of vegan restaurants are popping up, but I’ve never noticed or paid attention to them before. I bet there are some in your area, too.
I balanced out my day with some watermelon, trail mix (not too much as the almonds and pistachios are high in fat), and kale chips (my favorite is Alive and Radiant Kale Krunch, Organic Tarragon Dijon) and a small amount of vegetarian chili for dinner.
Many people have suggested I watch my energy level, since I am not eating as much protein. So, at the end of my day, I thought a walk outdoors would be the best exercise instead of getting on my treadmill or going to the gym. I took a 2 ½ mile walk and found that, even after a very long day at work, my mind seemed clearer and my energy level was fine. Actually, I felt a lot less stressed than I usually do.
Maybe the change in diet will help reduce my stress?
I was pleasantly surprised to receive emails from half a dozen of my blog subscribers last night, sharing their excitement about my new vegan journey. Turns out, many of them have been “closet” vegetarians or vegans for some time. It’s nice to know others have made the same choice and experienced the challenge of adjusting one’s lifestyle.
One email I received was from my friend Patrick, who pointed out the change in senses he has experienced since becoming a vegan:
“Besides increased energy, another interesting thing you will notice after a few weeks is that your sense of taste changes. You will begin to notice new or enhanced flavors, even in items that you have eaten on a regular basis in the past. When I shared this with my doctor, he explained that diets heavy in animal or dairy fat result in a reduced capacity for sensing different flavors. As a result of my new and improved taste buds, I find that I enjoy my food more and tend to eat slowly.”
With that said, here is how I started MY vegan journey…
After I made the decision to go vegan for a month, I went straight to the bookstore. I knew my biggest challenge would be keeping my meals and snacks interesting, as I’ve noticed in the last year that my food just doesn’t seem to taste as good as it used to.
So, I purchased three books that looked interesting and were recommended:
Thrive Fitness The Vegan-Based Training Program
Forks Over Knives This book was the most interesting to me as there are vignettes, personal stories and some recipes. (A paperback guide to the movie I mentioned in my last post)
The China Study (This study is featured heavily in the movie “Forks over Knives.”)
Because I have limited free time during the week, I have only skimmed through the books. But skimming has still provided me with good information and has kept me interested.
Big take-away: Many elite athletes are vegans. Clearly, there is no lack of protein in a plant-based diet.
After the bookstore, I spent about 2 hours visiting my local supermarkets, as I wanted to read ingredient labels to get a feel for foods I could and could not eat. (In addition to my Ralphs I shop at regularly, I checked out Sprouts, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.)
Observation: There are a lot of dairy products in foods that I never realized before. This is the biggest difference between vegans and vegetarians: when you are a vegan, you do not eat any dairy products.
The last challenge I had to confront before starting my vegan lifestyle was, “What do I order when I go out to eat?” Fortunately, I had plans to go out to dinner the last two nights and was able to experiment.
The first outing was for business, and all my colleagues ordered chicken or salmon. There were two “vegetarian” choices on the menu, but I asked the server if they had any vegan options. He checked with the chef and told me “not on the menu.” So I simply asked him for a vegetable plate with no cheese or butter. I did find the platter of steamed spinach, arugula salad, grilled tomatoes, peppers and grains delicious and, honestly, did not miss the heavy foods my friends were eating. The bonus: I felt fantastic after I ate – no “over full” feeling.
Last night, my husband Garry and I went out to dinner. We went to a Mediterranean restaurant and, in the past, I have always ordered salad with chicken or salmon on top. So, I was relieved when I opened the menu and found a lentil soup with the words “True vegetarian” written next to it. No dairy either. Yeah! I made it through another dinner and felt satisfied afterwards.
So today, I am officially a vegan! Let the journey begin!